Janice had decided to eat her lunch at the park that Tuesday, taking advantage of one of the last warm days of the year. She settled down on one of the benches facing the fountain, now drained for the cold seasons. To pass the time she observed other park-goers and passersby while daintily eating her cucumber salad. A young couple, clearly in love, sat across the other side of the fountain. Their arms interlaced, her head on his shoulder looking up into his eyes. Janice had known love like that only once, but she was not bitter its absence in her life now. Rather, she quite enjoyed absorbing the rays of love couples such as this emanated.
Her pleasure was short-lived, however; a few moments later a bird—a pigeon, to be precise—swooped down and pecked at the woman’s back. Her partner whacked it off with his forearm. The bird flew away cawing before turning around and diving again. The couple jumped up and fled from the bird, he with his hands over his head, she with her bag as used as a shield. Janice, alarmed, stood up quickly as well, the remnants of her salad falling on the pavement. The sky was full of them, these screeching, swooping birds, and those lovers weren’t the only ones being harassed either. Could they be Mr. Mayland’s birds? she thought. And if so, why were they acting in such a manner?
She bent down to pick up her plastic salad container off the ground (even in a state of crisis she could never litter). Squatted there, she was faced with a small grey bird. It was not angry or aggressive like the other ones about, but there was a look of urgency on its face. Janice was never one to underestimate the ability of animals to emote—she was not so arrogant to believe that ability belonged solely to humans—but the intensity of its face struck her. Moreover, the bird seemed familiar. Familiar not in the sense that she recognized it as one of Mayland’s, no she’d always kept as much distance between those birds and her as posisible, but it looked like someone she knew, a person. The bird hopped forward once, twice. Janice fell onto her butt with alarm. It opened and closed its mouth again and again, as if trying to communicate. No sounds came out, though. This confused Janice and seemed to frustrate the bird.
Janice realized she had been waiting for this bird to actually talk to her. What foolishness she thought. She shook her head and began to stand again, leaving the plastic container abandoned on the ground. Best just to get back inside and not worry about this nonsense. It was probably just mating season, the bird pheromones driving them all crazy.
But then, a small gasp. The small grey bird had managed to push out a quiet appeal for her to stay with him. He tried again, emitting small sounds: whistles, squeaks and more gasps. Slowly the sounds began to take on more shape, closer to a language Janice recognized.
“Fooo” squawk “Eeee.”
“Fou..Ee…Four E, Four E, Four E.”
“4E? 4E!” It couldn’t mean what Janice had thought. “4E…Don? Are, are you Don?”
The grey bird cooed loudly, jumping up and down on his small feet.
“What happened? What’s going on? Does this have to do with Mr. Mayland’s birds?”
The bird, Don, shook his feathers. It was too complicated to explain. After Beatrice had disappeared from sight, her partner, boyfriend, fuck buddy, whoever the hell he was freaked out—running around, yelling her name, looking for her over the roof like that made any sense. Don had known what had happened, though. She had touched the feather and disappeared just as he had. She had seemed to know it was going to happen, but how? Don had needed to find out, so when the man in her robe was peering over the ledge, Don grabbed another stray feather.
It had taken him a while to find Beatrice, but once he had, her situation seemed grim. Locked up and being tortured by that creepy old dude on the sixth floor while all the other birds were chattering about their imminent rise to power. No, Don could not tell Janice all he knew at that moment. His ability to communicate was still poor, and besides, he couldn’t chance scaring her away. Not when he had just gotten her to see him for himself.
“Too Ess nees help”, then, was all Don said.
Janice, jaw tightened, brow furrowed, eyes set on bird Don’s, gave a curt, grim nod: “Right. Let’s go.”